Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tough to Get Going

After an exhausting 2 weeks (end of the first semester of my first year at this school + a 4-day trip with my former school to Washington, D.C.), I find myself back to where I usually am when it comes to blogging: stuck.

I find that while I have ideas floating around, I can never seem to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).  This is a recurring theme of my life on the Internet: I start, and fade away.  Start, and fade away.  Start, and fade away.  I look at some amazing blogs out there, and I wonder: how do they do it?  How do they maintain a life as a teacher and yet still have the time and energy to share that with everyone else?  How do they have the organization necessary to do all that?

So. . .how is that done?

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Just get out there." Yeah.

So I was reading my Edutopia RSS feed, when I came upon this gem:

In it, Andrew encourages teachers to just get out there and try things.  I couldn't agree more.  I seem to be repeating myself to anyone who will listen, but the art of teaching will only continue to grow and evolve if we, as a teaching community, try new things.  If we keep on doing the same thing over and over again, we will never get any better.  It seems obvious that we shouldn't teach history courses with the same material we did even 10 years ago.  Why do we insist on teaching other subjects in the same way with the same material?  Technology's changing; we should figure out how to use that.  New things are being discovered in science and math all the time.  Let's use this!

Of course, teaching does change.  Someone figures out a way to make something more teachable or in a new and engaging way, and slowly that spreads to others.  With the Web 2.0 burst a few years ago, this whole process is sped up immensely.  But still, we each have a choice: do we want to be the teacher figuring things out, or do we want to be those who change because of what others have figured out?

To me, the choice is clear: we should all be those who are trying new things!  And let's not lie to our students about it.  I have tried new things throughout the whole year with my classes.  Being my first year at this school, I suppose that's part of the territory.  But when I try new things, I'm not going to have my students think I know exactly what's going to happen.  I tell them I'm trying something new, and it might work, and it might not.  As a class, we might all fall on our faces.  Or we might do some pretty awesome things that make our classroom better.

Latest example: I gave my students a small notepad, calling it the "Book of Wonder."  In here, they are to jot down anything they wonder about throughout the day.  They're middle schoolers.  They're curious about just about everything.  When they have something they want to talk about as a class, they write it on a separate card (to not tear apart their book), and put it in the "Wonder Box of Wonders."  Then, I try to take their curiosity and work it into what we do in class.

Will this work?  I have no idea.  It's been 2 weeks and I haven't been able to incorporate anything yet.  But if I can never work anything into the curriculum, is it a failure?  No, and here's why:

For the first 3 days, my students were writing in these books constantly in my class and in their other classes.  I should have given the other teachers a heads up on this, so they would be able to manage this in their room.  Learning moment for me.

For the first 3 days, my students were writing in these books constantly.  Most of this was valid, though some certainly was just joking around or posturing for their classmates.  One student made a flipbook.  But they were thinking and writing about what they were (and are) curious about.

Within the first week, a facebook group was made.  In this group, my students are posting things they wonder about, and are answering other people's wonders.  They range from serious ("I wonder why there are holes in Swiss cheese") to less serious, but valid ("I wonder if we'll have a snowday tomorrow") to middle schoolers figuring out their emotions ("I wonder why life has to be so hard sometimes" and "I wonder why some people at our school are really mean").

Even if I am never able to use their wonders in class, I view this as a success because they're thinking and sharing with each other.  They're not afraid to be curious.

So we need to get out and try things.  What's the worst that happens: we fail but learn from it?  Teachers afraid to learn?  That sounds dangerous to me.


Hello, to whomever may be stumbling upon my blog here.  I've tried a few times in the past to get a blog up and running, and always found difficulty with it.  Now that I'm taking a course that requires blogging (and will hopefully provide pointers with how to do so), I may find it easier to stick with it.

I'm just another teacher doing what he can to reach his students.  I live and teach in Ann Arbor, Michigan, working with 7th and 8th graders mostly in literature, but also with pre-algebra and religion.  I love teaching all three classes, with a soft spot in my heart for each of those subjects, and also the connections between them.

I suppose that's all for now.